If picking NFL teams that would be in the playoffs this year were an exam, we would’ve fared about as worse as a wobbly duck of a Mark Sanchez pass in the end zone.
It’s hard enough to choose among 12 teams and get a lot of them right in a league where parity plays a crucial role in maintaining competitive balance. But once you throw unpredictability into the equation, then all hell breaks loose.
And it did; at least as far as our playoff teams were concerned.
Entering the year, we, and presumably a lot of other people, scoffed at the thought of seeing the Indianapolis Colts, the Washington Redskins, the Minnesota Vikings, and to a certain extent, the Cincinnati Bengals playing in the wild card round of the playoffs. One would be surprising. Two would be shocking. Three would be downright impossible.
All four teams are in the playoffs.
Is it too late for us to pretend we knew this would happen all along?
To exacerbate matters – and prove our unwitting genius in picking this year’s playoff teams – we pretty much penciled in the New York Giants, the New Orleans Saints, the Chicago Bears, and the Pittsburgh Steelers to be in the thick of things come January.
None of them made it.
At least we got something right because all those teams are in the thick of things, alright…in the thick of making vacation plans.
It doesn’t take long for unpredictability to reign supreme in the NFL. We’ve seen plenty of those moments happen during the season, and as we head into the Wild Card round, there’s a good chance that we’ll be seeing it’s ugly mug again. Who knows, one of these eight teams could very well end up being the Super Bowl champs. At this point, nothing is out of the question.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Speaking of unpredictability, who knew that the Texans, the team with the best record in the AFC for the first 15 weeks of the season, would somehow lose out on a first-round bye. But that’s what happens when you lose three out of your last four games the way those Texans did. Going into the game, Houston’s a 4.5-point favorite against the team that hasn’t exactly been burning up the field as of late. Don’t be fooled by that number, though, because the Bengals defense has been on a tear recently, even accounting for touchdowns scored in the last three games of the season. Couple that with a fizzling Texans team that has one touchdown to show for in the past two-and-a-half games, and you’re more than likely looking at an enticing upset pick here.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
If the Saints suffered from bad juju from the bounty scandal, the Indianapolis Colts have been the complete opposite. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano’s battle with leukemia should have been too daunting of a challenge to overcome for a team replete with young players. But instead, the Colts galvanized around their resilient and inspiring coach and pulled games out of their jock straps through sheer will, determination, and we’ll say it, the good juju vibes. Now, they’re going up against a Baltimore Ravens team that isn’t as good as their 10-6 record suggests. Remember, these are the same Ravens who were 9-2 a month ago before losing four of their last five games. Nevertheless, Baltimore goes into the game as a 7-point favorite, a number that could play into swings on both sides of the line. For all of their surprising poise, the Colts are also pretty careless with the ball, having turned the ball over 27 times in the season. You match them with a Ravens defense that still has some playmakers on its side despite their bout with injuries, and you have the makings of a game that could be decided on who turns the ball over in the crucial stages.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
Of the eight teams playing in the wild card round, three of them have rookie quarterbacks. Two of those three are playing in this game. We could just rename this game Wilson vs Griffin III because the outcome could end up being decided by who plays better between the two. Wilson has the advantage of having a dominant defense on his side, one that gave up just 15.3 points for the entire year (tops in the league). But there is one caveat: the ‘Hawks are traveling to DC for this one. If this game was being played in Seattle, we’d chalk it up as a Seahawks win without even blinking twice. But they’re playing on the road, a place where they finished with a 3-5 record. Make no mistake, the Seahawks have been dominant as of late, but laying 3.5 points against an equally hot Redskins team hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1999?
Something doesn’t add up. Remember, for all of Russell Wilson’s recent run of wizardry, the Seahawks offense still runs through Marshawn Lynch and he’s going up against a run defense that has looked pretty good in against power runners in recent weeks. Of the four wild card games, this game is the one that’s destined to be close until the end. Those 3.5 points look good.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
If their week 17 game was any indication, this game could boil down to which body appendage comes through for their team: Adrian Peterson’s legs or Aaron Rodgers’ arm. The Packers are an 8-point favorite to beat the team that just beat them a few days ago. Here’s a line that looks right in line with what you can expect from the game. The Vikings ship will sail or swim depending on how Adrian Peterson bum rushes that Packers defense, something he did pretty spectacularly in their two meetings this season when he averaged a ridiculous 204.5 yards. If the Packers defense can somehow “contain” All Day (we’re using that term loosely because there really is no containing that man), then Green Bay can win this game easily. As much as we love seeing Peterson run, there’s no way the Vikings can win if they have to rely on Christian Ponder’s noodle arm in that insanely cold – and windy – tundra of Lambeau Field.